Category: Culture


Got to Chiang Khong late afternoon on the 15.05.17. It has rained more or less continuously ever since. Will stay at the “Green Inn” for a couple of nights in expectation of crossing the border into Laos on the 17.05.17 (Thai visa runs out 18.05.17). Plan on a two day boat trip down the Mekong staying one night in Pakbeng (Dp guesthouse), before continuing the second day down to Luan Prabang, stopping at “The Deck House” for eleven nights. The trip, priced in Laotian currency works out at 325,374.00 Kip or £30.30 per person for the two day boat journey on the Mekong. I count that as a good deal!

The Mekong at Pakbeng.

Friday 19.05.17 Still overcast, but thankfully the drizzle has abated somewhat. Arrived at Luan Prabang about 17:00 in the afternoon and was happily met by Meryl from the “Deck House” who had kindly thought to come down to pick us up at the quayside. After introducing us to Stephen her partner, back at the “Deck House”, grabbed a shower freshened up and went down to the lounge to chat to them both at length, as a precursor to going out to a local restaurant for a meal. Flopped down and slept soundly after a tiring day.

Fishermen make their way against the strong Mekong currents.

Out for a walk around town to orientate ourselves. There’s a bamboo rope bridge that is constructed at the start of “the dry season”(Oct-May) over the NamKhang river (a tributary of the Mekong), and deconstructed/washed away during the “rainy season”(June to September) for which a nominal 5000Kip(50p) is charged. Access to the market, restaurants and bars is down in the main body of the town. The market stretches some considerable distance along the main “walking street” where purveyors of goods have wrested dominion back from the car and other forms of transport, which is always good to see.

The rope / bamboo bridge over to town centre Luang Prabang

The night market in Luan Prabang.

The intention “at the moment” is to lay over here for thereabouts a month, then head south to Vientiene (the capital) and then back into Thailand were some luggage needs retreaving.

Three hour bus trip north from Bangkok in a fairly cramped “People Carrier” gets us into Pai at around 15:30. The countryside improved greatly after leaving Chiang Mai and started the climb into the mountain area in which Pai is embedded.

06:00am…C29..It’s going to be a beautiful morning here in Pai

Three hundred hairpin/switchback bends later, we cruise down main street to be greeted by a really “Bohemian” environment full of “young trendies” doing their thing and “hanging out” as I believe the phraseology goes. Paitopia is our domicile for the next three nights. Its a grouping of a number of purpose built wooden “A”frame houses on stilts built in random fashion near an outdoor pool and bar/restaurant around a small lagoon/lake.

A “Massiman” repas, along with a bowl of spices and a cool Leo.

Hired a moped for a couple of days (100 Tai bahts(GBP 2.20)!)
Although the immediate future involves a move to another domicile called Bulunburi on the banks of the Pai river, the intention is to head south again to Chiang Mai and out east to Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong to make the border crossing  over to Laos at the Friendship bridge over the Mekong river at a small border town called NongKhai. A two day boat trip down the Mekong then ensues, to a town in Laos called Pakbeng, stopping overnight. The following day the boat trip continues until we disembark and head out to Luang Prabang. However in the interim, I have to gain some motivation to do an “on-line” application for a subsequent border crossing at a later date, into Myanmar.

After an  overland / overnight  11 hour trip by road  north, the bus pulled in by the old city Tha Phae gate in Chiang Mai at 06:30am. First impressions, were of a city much larger than I had expected. Indeed the metropolitan area outside the ancient city walls spreads for a considerable distance and is home to 149,000 people. Chiang Mai sits close to the Ping river. The old city walls date back to the 13th century. They have warped, distended and truncated with the passage of time. Checked in at Jimmy & Jengs Homestay in a small enclave just outside the old city gates.

Jimmi & Jengs Homestay lodging just outside the old Chiang Mai city walls.

edium wp-image-1469″ src=”https://magnuskwaszenko.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/img_4050.jpg?w=300″ alt=”” width=”300″ height=”225″ /> 13th Century city wall section, warped and distorted through time.[/caption]

During the ensuing few days  took a TukTuk ride and also mooched around the city centre . The driver said that there were 300 Temples within the city walls. After visiting two or three I’m afraid that I started rubbing mine,(temples…that is). Have been out to China Town area a few times to try the “street food”, and experience the atmosphere. The food was incredibly cheap, 30 Baht (67pence) for a filling meal eaten, sat on some plastic stools. The atmosphere was good humoured and convivial.

China Town Market, like markets all over the world provides a forum for exchange on many disparate levels.
The weather forecast is predicting C39 on Tuesday & Wednesday. A tad warm methinks!

Beautifully carved wooden Temples, ubiquitous throughout Chiang Mai.

Sat down and enjoy some Tofu, spring onion, green/red peppers, coriander, and some other stuff, I know not what! However, the inner surfaces of my mouth were on fire as I finished &  left  in search of a soothing Chang beer or two.

China Town Market. Like markets all over the world providing a forum for exchange on many disparate levels.

Now appears to be a good time to start planning a trip NE via Mueang Chiang Rai, crossing the boarder into Laos and picking up a boat on the Mekong River for a two day journey, heading to Luang Prabang in Laos.

13th Century city wall section, warped and distorted through time.

However, whilst travelling, word sifts through the ether about a place called Pi. It seems that among the back packer fraternity, it is “the” place to visit to chill, for a few days. So booked tickets for a 3 hour drive up there to stay and soak up the atmosphere for 5 days.

C37 here in Bangkok today, clear blue skies and busy busy down the Khao San Road. Traders, stall holders, massage parlours, bars, eateries, hookers, hawkers, beggars,  and bible bashers, all in an undulating, pulsating ephemeral tide.

Checked into “Thai Garden House”  19.04.17, which is, as Thai descriptions go more generally, “never knowingly undersold.” However, everything and everyone seem to rub along well together. Time spent here is dedicated to “Chillin’, Relaxing & Planning”.

The Thai Garden House Hostel is a traditional old wooden clapperboard property which has kinda’ been overpowered by subsequent development. However undaunted “Mr.Thai” the owner, works assiduously to keep customers happy.

The trip north by bus, ensues at (19:30pm) Monday evening. Chiang Mai was missed last time one was here, so once there, will provide an excellent opportunity to head east into Laos.

A decision has yet to be made how to get to Laos. There are two possibilities via the Mekong river,(9hours fast boat…or 2 days slow boat). However, one has been advised to reject the “fast option” as too dangerous. Apparently, there have been many accidents, with boats hitting rocks in the river, capsizing and throwing occupants and luggage overboard!!!

Alternatively, one could fly to Vientiane (southern Laos) or go overland to Luang Prabang.

Just discovered, subsequent to having bought overland tickets north, (isn’t it always the way..) that flights are available to fly to Yangon (Myanmar) for £25!!!! from Bangkok. Anyway, coming back to Bangkok after Laos, to pick up some luggage we left behind to lighten our burden. Therefore, leaving Myanmar a considered option for later.

Yeh!!! 1920’s rocks!!!

On a completely separate note, I got some “RayBan “Gatsby”” sunglasses as a birthday present from my two daughters and their husbands…..What do you think?????…mmmmmm

The hill top town of Cartona provides sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

Strange title, I know…but true. The last three weeks have been tough going renovating, repainting and refurbishing a property. Case of  waking, working, eating and sleeping from 06:00am to 18:00pm relentlessly for 21 days. However, the results were satisfying and the project is now completed.
I’m writing this in Fiumicino (Leonardo DaVinci) International Airport in Rome. It’s 22:00 we are on airport benches relishing the prospect of a nights sleep on them as a precursor to getting the train into down town Rome tomorrow to check in at our Airbnb accommodation. Never been to Rome before, so I am looking forward to the prospect of visiting historical sites in their ubiquity. Architecture, sculpture and artworks that have beguiled, enchanted and inspired through the centuries of their existence. My only concern is that there will be just too many tourists doing exactly the same thing that I propose doing!
08.04.17 Friday

I’m afraid that I have completely capitulated to the stunning beauty that that now envelopes me within it’s bucolic embrace. The softly rolling hills, captivating villages and the gentle pace of life are utterly beguiling.

Late afternoon and the sun settles down into the Umbrian landscape

The Tiber (Tevere) river’s sinuous track through Rome.[/capt]

09.04.17
Of course the ultimate aim of this little junket to Rome is to make our way north east to a tiny village in the Tuscan hills called Montelucci for the wedding of my second daughter Georgina to her fiancé Dominic on the 15.04.17. For the moment we are spending a few days in a Tuscan hilltop village called Villastrada in the Province of Perugia for a little private time with our daughter.

Saturday

The elevator carried me up from deep levels of unconsciousness. Up and up it went, through my campaigns at the side of Wellington, the Peninsular wars,  through to Waterloo,….tricky negotiations with Napoleon,….and later, at another level, consultations with Kennedy. I pleaded with him not to go to Dallas……but hey ho, he wouldn’t listen…..Anyhow, as I reached “ground floor”, I peeked from under the sheets to see…that it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Blue skies…horizon to horizon, a crispness in the ether, birds tweeting and the smell of a bacon and egg breakfast, and coffee….excellent. It’s going to be a great day. To Bondi methinks…for some serious sunbathing among the “beautiful people.”

Bondi Beach, playground of the "beautiful people."

Bondi Beach, playground of the “beautiful people.”

Ambled back up Bondi road about four hours later…one doesn’t want to “over do it” and start peeling, that wouldn’t do at all.

Called in at Bondi Surf Seafood again for three pieces of salmon, (the one we had three days ago was delicious). Picked up more spinach, fruit and a couple more “tinnies” in the expectation of another fine meal on Sunday.

The chest infections seem to be slowly resolving themselves and now feeling a little more “chipper”.

The Fruitologist on Bondi road has fresh and crisp fruit and vegetables.

The Fruitologist on Bondi road has fresh and crisp fruit and vegetables.

Tonight looks to be a great night to catch up on “House of Cards” and the devious Frank Underwood.

I neglected to mention that the warm weather and languid daily routine, copious consumption of fresh fruits and fish, have conspired to deplete the weight that I had put on over the Christmas period, which is not entirely unwelcome.

Got back to Manchester from Malta on 11.01.17 after another “stupid o’clock” flight. Picked up a hire car and got over to Rossendale for a doctor’s appointment. Picked up some clothes and then over to the Wirral to see some friends. Having spent four days back in “Blighty” the Sunday 15.01.17 at Manchester airport again for a sleep on their very comfortable, though uncompromising steal seating for an 06:10 “check in” for a trip to Budapest for some dental work, and as it turned out some whooping cough vaccines. Budapest was freezing! Five days later we’re on for a quick hop to Berlin and transfer going to Abu Dhabi.img_3596 A two day layover there, and finally out to Brisbane and a transfer to Sydney.

Bondi Beach, the proverbial stomping ground of the "Beautiful People", Surfers & Sharks

Bondi Beach, the proverbial stomping ground of the “Beautiful People”, Surfers & Sharks

The whole point of the trip was that on the 15.01.17our first grand daughter Amelie was born into the world. Two weeks earlier than the anticipated 31.01.17 forecast date. Babies do have a habit of generating frenetic activity don’t they?

Unfortunately, we appear to have picked up a chest infection which precludes us seeing our grand daughter until it clears up and we can make it back up to Brisbane to see her.

Tuesday 24.01.17 after a stonkingly good nights sleep, lazy start, and a coffee, ambled down Bondi road to the beach and Bondi Surf Sea Food store to pick up some salmon, Bondi Fruitologist for spinach & tomatoes and a few tinnies from Kemnies. Crickey! it’s pricey though (AUD49.47 or £30). Our prospective son in law, being something of a “gourmand” employing his skills as a chef provided an exquisite salmon dinner presented in his own inimitable way. It was delicious.

Looking down on the eponymous Bridge.

Looking down on the eponymous Bridge.

Last time we were here the bridge was “alive” with fire works, colours and smoke bringing in the new year 2014.

As an aside, it seems that the new U.S. president “The Donald” has made a whirlwind start with a whole swathe of new legislation plus ridding the State Department of many Obama acolytes.

I hope that our incapacity does not make our planned trip north too protracted.



Coming to the end of this brief junket to Malta and Gozo. Will travel back to Valletta tomorrow, spend the night and catch a 07:30 to Manchester.

It’s been fairly challenging the last few days as the weather had really turned quite cold and a Mediterranean storm blew in for around three days.

Marsalforn harbour Gozo, getting a battering. Notice the sky was still blue.

As one may imagine, the houses are not well insulated as it is only for about two months of an otherwise warm year with high temperatures that any kind of heating would be needed. Under those circumstances, people dispense with the expense of heating a property and merely just wrap up in warmer clothes!
Got back to Manchester 12.01.17 at 10am, picked up a hire car and drove to town in order to attend to problems with an iPad. Drove up to Rossendale to attend to some medical stuff and to present prescriptions at the Chemists. Over to visit Doreen (a friend) who had kindly invited us to dinner. Subsequently got to Petr (our AirBnB host) quite late.
13.01.17 Friday Snowed during the night, which will not really be conducive to driving over to the Wirral to see a couple of friends (Paul & Vicki).

16.01.17 Sunday 19:45 Saw us onto the Ryanair flight from Manchester to Budapest. Minus C7 here at the moment, however learning that we had become grandparents for the first time has warmed our hearts.

Ice flows on the Danube!

Ice flows on the Danube!

img_358220.01.17 Have bundled warm clothes up into a parcel and air freighted them back to Blighty as at “stupid o’clock” tomorrow will being on a flight to Berlin and then on to Abu Dhabi and eventually Australia, where one hopes that the weather will be a tad warmer. Not looking forward to, yet another night sleeping at an airport, but Hey Ho this is the life one has picked for the near term.

Time in Budapest has been characterised by soaking up the Austro-Hungarian C19 architecture, enjoying the majesty of the Danube and its bridges, restaurants, theatres and quirky entrepreneurial businesses like a cocktail bar where one can imbibe alcohol in a beach setting, with sand parasols and heat lamps whilst looking through the “shop front’ window at people passing along the thoroughfare in sub zero temperatures! Naturally enough the establishment is called the Beach and appears to have year around adherents.

The transport infrastructure is second to none. Totally integrated trams, underground and bus network. Best of all, if one shows id to confirm one is over 65….it’s totally free!

Budapest definitely has a lot to offer. However, I would recommend that one comes here in the summertime, as it’s definitely a little too cold (temperatures at night are C-7 & barely above freezing during the day) in the winter months.

Returned the car to the hire firm at the airport and caught the bus to the port town of Comino, on the west coast Malta to catch the ferry over to the island of Gozo. It was a bright blue morning and the crossing took about fifty minutes, docking in Mgarr harbour. The bus service over to Marsalforn, where our host Alex met us, took an hour.

Mgarr harbour Gozo is a quaint & picturesque little harbour which services the ferry's over from mainland Malta.

Mgarr harbour Gozo is a quaint & picturesque little harbour which services the ferry’s over from mainland Malta.

After chatting to Alex and depositing luggage meandered down to the harbour side town centre in Marsalforn and along the sea front for a couple of miles out to an old fortification on a promontory west of town. There were numerous coastal rock formations and water sculpted tesselations of the ancient sea bed that caught ones interest. On the way back, picked up some provisions at the local store and a nice Malbec in expectation of a pleasant evening before settling for the night.

Kind of wasted Wednesday with software issues with an ipad which took an inordinate amount of time to resolve with the Apple engineers over the phone and uploading new software.

Harbourside at Marsalforn on Gozo today. A" little breezy", one could say!

Harbourside at Marsalforn on Gozo today. A” little breezy”, one could say!

Thursday 05.01.17 Took the bus from Marsalforn to Victoria and then out to the Azure Window today. The weather was pretty windy and the seas were unusually wild, which made for a few good snaps.Also took the bus out to the “Azure Window” on the west coast. Its a sea carved arch, the will in due course collapse under the precepts of coastal erosion, the depredations of which are constant.

The Azure Window, west coast Gozo.

The Azure Window, west coast Gozo.

11.12.16 Sunday 
How strange,….from the time the aircraft tyres hit the tarmac at Hal Luca international airport to arriving at our domicile, elements of a short British occupation are still in evidence. The fairly pervasive use of english, to grocery store items to driving on the left, bear witness to historic osmosis. However, Malta appears to be much, much more than that.

Down in the old town Valletta.

Down in the old town Valletta.

Valletta has three harbours. This one is dedicated to pleasure craft & Ferry Shuttles over to the citadel and the Old Town Commercial Centre.

Valletta has three harbours. This one is dedicated to pleasure craft & Ferry Shuttles over to the citadel and the Old Town Commercial Centre.

Her history bears witness to over 4000 years of changing hegemonies. Walking down the old commercial centre within the citadel, one elicits a vicarious sense of a time when Valletta was in her “Hay day”, supporting frenetic commercial activity with the Mediterranean Basin.

It would also seem a popular stopping off point for some international super yachts, as there were three or four mega-examples on display.

View from the Citadel over to one of the old harbours.

View from the Citadel over to one of the old harbours.

26.12.16 Had Christmas lunch with the family of the young lady (Sarah) that provided our accommodation here in Valletta. They were wonderfully welcoming and treated us to a traditional Maltese Christmas lunch of mushroom soup, assorted meats & vegetables followed by traditional handmade desserts.img_3425

Following the New Year the plan is to move over to Gozo a small adjacent island on the 03.12.17

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